Home > Uncategorized > Middle School Application Blues in NYC… Where Choice = Headaches for Parents and Needless Pressure on Kids

Middle School Application Blues in NYC… Where Choice = Headaches for Parents and Needless Pressure on Kids

My daughter, who lives in Brooklyn, wrote a post on Facebook:

(My son) brought home a handout called ‘Your Next Steps’, which outlines the long and complicated middle school application process. It begins… and hopefully ends well. We’ll let you know next spring.

In nearly every town and city in America 5th grade students and their parents are not subjected to a “long and complicated” application to Middle School. Instead, for better or worse they attend the middle school where they are assigned by the district, which in most cases across the country is the one closest to where they reside. New York is different, though. It has different tiers of middle schools: some are competitive ones where acceptance rates are lower than 10%; others are magnet schools that screen children based on applications they submit; and– lowest on the totem pole– are the neighborhood schools that offer generic programs. High Schools have a similar system, which effectively means that students who wish to attend a competitive high school or specialized magnet school should make certain their child gets into a program other than the generic one offered  in their neighborhood school.

An article from the DNA Info blog written last year by Amy Zimmer offered an interactive map of middle school acceptance rates in 2013-14 and included this bit of information:

Across the city, 65 middle school programs accepted less than 10 percent of their applicants last year, making the public schools just as selective as Ivy League universities like Brown and UPenn, according to data DNAinfo obtained from the Department of Education through a Freedom of Information Law request.

And that paragraph was followed by these:

The low acceptance rates mean high stress levels for parents who say the middle school application process is just as complicated as applying to college — but for 10-year-olds.

“It was rather traumatic,” Harlem resident Robin Miles said of the year spent finding a middle school for her daughter, Olivia DuFord. “The city has not figured out yet how to simplify or even streamline the process.” 

And the process, as described later in the article and below, requires a lot of time and research on the part of the student… and inherently requires testing to determine which schools a child is eligible to attend:

Fifth-graders fill out a single application each December ranking all the middle schools they are eligible to attend, and then each district has a different way of choosing which students win spots at which school.

The key phrase in this sentence is “..they are eligible to attend”because many schools require test scores above a certain level which deny entry to students who fail to make the cut… and the cut scores for “gifted and talented” identification are as arbitrary as the cut scores for determining failing schools.

This application process is inherently unfair. If my daughter and her husband, both of whom have advanced degrees, find this application process daunting, imagine the difficulty someone without a high school degree or someone with no college background is encountering. Or how difficult it is for a single mom working two part-time jobs to find the time to review the reams of information on the middle school options her child has.

I have an idea for the city: instead of making parents go through this arduous process of selecting a middle school that might require burdensome transportation and after school care logistics, offer a high quality program for all children at all schools in the city. By subjecting middle schools to market forces, the city is subjecting parents to paperwork and 10 year old children to needless pressure. Restoring strong neighborhood middle schools would go a long way to restoring sanity— and equity– to public education.

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